US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has talked to President Ghani and Chairman of the High Council of National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, via phone calls on Sunday night, May 24, according to the Afghan Presidential Palace. Pompeo has further thanked the government for initiating the release process of 2,000 Taliban prisoners decided after the Taliban announced a three-day nationwide ceasefire.
“He asserted that the U.S. will push for a long-term ceasefire/RiV (reduction in violence) and start of direct negotiations,” President Ghani quoted the US secretary of state as saying about the long demand of the Afghan government, ceasefire, and the intra-Afghan talks with the Taliban.
The Taliban declared a nationwide ceasefire late Friday night, May 22, for three days of Eid al-Fitr asking its fighters to remain defensive and refrain from traveling to territories controlled by Afghan security forces.
The truce seemed unexpected as the group’s leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzadah, did not mention of the truce in his Eid message released few days earlier. He, even, called on the Taliban field commanders to consolidate their ranks and stick to their military goals.
The Taliban decision of ceasefire was widely welcomed inside and outside Afghanistan.
As a sign of goodwill and welcome, President Ghani issued a decree on Sunday, May 24, ordering the release of up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners which was welcomed by the Taliban hours later. The militant group further reiterated on their commitment to release prisoners of the Afghan government.
Spokesperson for the Office of National Security Council, Javid Faisal, said today, May 25, in a tweet that pursuant to President Ghani’s decree, the government has released 100 Taliban prisoners in the northern Parwan province. He added that the release was aimed at further improvement in the peace process, particularly for continuation of the ceasefire and immediate start of direct talks.
With the newly released Taliban prisoners, the total number of militants who have so far freed from prisons of Afghan government reaches 1100. The Taliban have also released around 200 prisoners of the government.
At the international level, the ceasefire was welcomed by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Pakistan.
“I welcome the statements by the government of Afghanistan & the Taliban on a 3-day ceasefire over Eid. All parties should seize this opportunity for peace, for the benefit of all Afghans. NATO remains committed to Afghanistan’s long-term security,” Stoltenberg said in a tweet on Sunday.
Aisha Farooqui, Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan also said in a tweet that “Pakistan welcomes announcements by the Taliban and the Afghanistan government about ceasefire on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr.”
Since the ceasefire was announced, eight civilians, including women and children, have been killed and 12 others wounded as the result of mortar attacks hit civilian properties in Laghman and Ghazni provinces and a roadside bomb explosion in Kandahar province.
Though no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, media office of Ghazni governor blamed the Taliban for the mortar attack.